A crisp wind blew on the Ashram. The students shivered and hurried to the dining room. Omer was always starving at that time. For the past two months, he and the other students woke up at 5am, meditated, and practiced yoga. Breakfast was served at 8:30. It was healthy and humble: plain porridge, berries, and tea. Then, they resumed their studies of anatomy, meditation, and more yoga until 7pm. Sleep and repeat.
Julie was the most disciplined of the three. She stuck to the yogi diet for her entire stay. Candice did not digest local food. She had brought her protein bars and supplements from Canada. Omer found the yogi diet tasteless. The vegetarian recipes contained no garlic or spices. So, to supplement the Ashram meals, he topped them with toasts of Nutella, and swarms of fresh ants. "Free protein", he said.
Rishikesh is the yoga capital of the world. People come to learn and live a bonding experience. After graduation, the Ashrams organized the International Yoga Festival, where politicians and celebrities made speeches. Famous instructors gave classes and shared their vision. Candice grabbed a brochure and ran to her friends.
Candice: Guess who’s coming to the festival?
Omer: Shah Rukh Khan?
Candice: Good guess but no. Better!
Omer: Shah Rukh Khan?
Candice: NO! The Dalaï Lama! The Dalaï Lama is coming to Rishikesh!!!
She waved the brochure to their face. Written in bold was “His Holiness the 14th Dalaï Lama” as a presenter. Candice was jubilant. Seeing the Dalaï Lama was her life dream, the culmination of her yogi journey, the highest item on her bucket list.
Candice: It starts tomorrow! Let’s go.
Julie: How much is it?
Candice: There are different tiers. For the Dalaï Lama, we need the VIP pass.
Omer: Is there food?
Candice: Who cares!? You can have food any other day.
Julie: How much is it?
Candice: $400 for the VIP pass.
Candice: We get to hang out with the Dalaï Lama, ask him questions and all.
Omer: Cool! Ask him what he would do with $400.
Candice: Oh shut up! You don’t have to come! Julie?
Julie: I don’t know, it’s quite expensive to be honest. Are you going for sure?
Candice: YES! It might be the only chance I ever get.
Julie: What are you going to ask him?
Candice: I don’t know. It will come in the moment. I need to get my ticket first.
Julie: How much is the regular price?
Candice: It starts at $150.
Julie: At $150, do we get to see the Dalaï Lama?
Candice: Yes, he’s the main speaker for the event.
Omer: Is there a special price for Yogi graduates?
Candice: I don’t think so, but it’s free for Indians.
Julie: Omer, you can pass for Indian.
Omer: Yes, until they speak to me. Haha, it's worth a try!
With the news of the Dalaï Lama, tickets to the festival sold out in a few hours. Candice was desperate. Omer and Julie suggested to try the town market, for tickets and shopping. With his beard stretched and mustache curled up, Omer looked almost legit.
From the Ashram, the view on Rishikesh was beautiful and mystical. Shades of green lighted the foothills of the Himalaya as the clouds passed by. In the valley, the Ganges green waters contrasted with the orange temples. Standing watch on the bridge was the statue of Shiva, large and imposing. The three friends walked down to the valley and crossed the bridge.
The chaos of Reshikesh market clashed with the Ashrams' silent order. Omer, used to Moroccan markets, knew exactly where to look. He found a local hustler and negotiated two tickets for $ 400: a VIP pass and a regular one. The girls found a thrift store for Omer’s attire and had fun with it. They got him a white turban, linen clothes, and a few accessories. He looked like a handsome young Sikh.
Over excited, Candice insisted on being the first at the festival. Instead of the usual 5am start, they woke up at 4 am the next day and left the Ashram in the middle of the night. The two Canadian girls and their Sikh friend walked in the light of the stars, and reached the venue at 5 in the morning. In the quiet darkness, they meditated.
Dawn brought noise and visitors. Yogis from all around the world gathered along the bridge, by the river quays, and in the temples. They waited for the inauguration ceremony. When the sun rose behind the valley, there were over 300 people waiting along the Ganges.
Omer: I’m getting hungry.
Julie: I don’t think the shops open before 9.
Omer: What time does the festival start?
Candice: 8 am.
Omer: I’ll go look for food.
Julie: Bring me something, please. We’ll stay here.
Candice: I got my bars, thank you.
Omer wandered off in the narrow alleys of the Rishikesh market. Shortly after, the festival staff set up the stage. At 8:00, there were over a thousand people waiting on the quays. Omer found no shop open and josteld his way to his friends, hungry and grumpy. A lady walked on stage, followed by two others. They were all dressed in traditional Indian clothes. The first lady cleared her throat, and the crowd quieted at once.
"Welcome to our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, from all around the world. We are so overjoyed that you came to join us for another edition of the International Yoga festival […]"
Candice was itching with impatience. At the end of a long generic speech, the speaker dropped the news. The Dalaï Lama was not feeling well and consequently, he would not be among them.
Candice: It can't be.
Julie: This is false advertising!
Omer: Yeah, and it worked.
At the news, Omer and Julie left for the Ashram. Candice stayed at the festival. She attended for seven days, talked to politicians, celebrities, and renown yoga masters. At the end, she was so tired she forgot about their little scam. Together with Julie, she flew to Vancouver with the hope of seeing the Dalaï Lama someday.
Omer headed south. True Indian food was too good to leave just yet.